How to Deteremine if an Email, Letter or Phone Call May Be a Scam

Is this company or person, _______, a scam?

How to evaluate potential scams

How do you know if an email, letter or phone call you receive is real or a scam?  We are asked that question every day.  Often, there is no single determining factors.  It is often a combination of inconsistencies that don't add up.  Remember, a scammer is trying to create a believable, plausible lie - he is deliberately trying to weave a story that is difficult to disprove.

In some cases, there is really no way to know at all.  If you advertise something for sale, say a car and a person answers the ad and says he wants to buy it, he could be real or a scammer. As you progress in the sale, you must simply keep asking yourself; is this what I would do?  Is this what a legitimate buyer would do?  Are his requests reasonable?  Have I taken the right precautions, in case he should turn out to be lying?

There is no one indicator that is proof positive of a scam, but if a correspondence (letter, email or phone call) exhibits enough of them, we would suggest that a scam is likely.

Here are some of the things we look for.

To check out contact from an individuals / personal contacts:

  1. Location - Where are they? Some places are famous for being home to scams and scammers, most notably, Nigeria, Russia, Romania, Africa, and anywhere in the Third World, in general. For example, would would someone in Nigeria want to buy a car from the United States or Britain? If the person is located in a different country, assume first that it is a scam and keep your guard up!

  2. Inconsistent information - It's hard to maintain a lie.  Look for information that doesn't match.  If he says he grew up in Virginia, then he'd know about Busch Gardens and Williamsburg, wouldn't he.  If he claims to be American but writes in a way that makes little sense, or has a foreign accent, then English is not his first language.

  3. Inaccurate information - Look for inaccuracies that indicate a lie. If he's gives you email addresses that bounce, phone numbers that are disconnected, that's assign.  If he gives you an address; look at it in Google earth.  Maybe it is just a parking lot. Do a Google search on his phone number and the word "scam".

  4. Have they asked you to send them money via Western Union or "wire transfer"?  Unless it is a family member or a friend since childhood, this will always be a scammer!

To check out contact from someone claiming to be representing a business:

  1. Location - Where are they? Some places are famous for being home to scams and scammers, most notably, Nigeria, Russia, Romania, Africa, and anywhere in the Third World, in general. For example, would would someone in Nigeria want to buy a car from the United States or Britain? If the person is located in a different country, assume first that it is a scam and keep your guard up!

  2. Can you reach them? Call the contact phone number.  Can you reach them during normal business hours in their time zone? Did you get a person or a recording?  If you went into voicemail, were you able to reach a live person? If their only means of contact is an email address or a cell phone, think "scam!"

  3. No company email address - A real business will have it's own domain and website - you can make a website for less than $100 per year! Any business worth dealing with will have email address that has their business name after the @, then followed by .com (or .net,, .org, .gov, etc.).  If their address ends with,,,,,,
    or other free email accounts, it is VERY likely to be a scam.  And for those of you operating legitimate business without a webpage and domain name - it's 2008 - spend the $100/year and GET IN THIS CENTURY.. or be considered to be a buggy whip manufacturer, at best.

  4. Have they asked you to pay them money via Western Union or "wire transfer"? This will always be a scam! we know of NO legitimate business that accepts payments via Western Union. Any legitimate business anywhere in the civilized world can accept a check, and usually a credit card.

  5. If they have a website,

    1. Does it have a private listing in Whois, or the listing names are associated with other scams. A private listing is fine for a personal website, a blog, or an information-only website (like CFR), but if your business is selling something, the Whois entry should identify the company that owns the domain.

    2. Do the links on the website work?  A few broken links here and there are normal, but if the majority are broken, that may indicate a website that was slapped together quickly.

    3. Unrelated photos or content.  Do the pictures, links and content on the pages match the theme and purpose of the page and website? 

    4. Vague or inaccurate information - Reputable marketers have access to the product details and know you will want them.  Scammers just cut and paste why they can quickly find.

    5. Cloned content - Are the photos and text copied from other websites??

    6. Misdirection - if you type in a web address, but it redirects to a different web address, that can be a sign of a scam.

  6. Misrepresentation - Do the terms and conditions or product and services match the advertising and content on their pages?

  7. Hidden or hard to find terms and conditions - If the terms are generic and not likely to impact the use of the product or costs, it may be a not issue.  But if their terms include buried requirements that cost you money or make the product or service less useful, that's a scam!

  8. Few links in Google - If you search in Google, Yahoo and other major search engines but find few or now results to their business name or website, they are either new, unpopular or a scam.

  9. No listing in related aggregate websites, like the Better Business Bureau, or related website reviews (like Shopzilla,, Bizrate).  The bigger and more reputable firms will show up elsewhere in listings for their industry.


Example of Incomplete Information to Determine a Scam

-----Original Message-----
Sent: Friday, May 09, 2008 6:22 AM
Subject: Feedback from CFR:N/A


I'd like to confirm if this is real or is it a scam..

I have received this offer, but it sounds kinda true to me.

I have spoke on the HR Manager by calling on the number provided here.

He did inform me that I will have to pay for my Visa and other formalities and that I will not be reimbursed with same. In regard to this I would get 75% of my salary in advance.

The reason I feel this offer is true to an extent is because if you go through the letters you will find the seal of Sinochem International and the rest.

Could you get back to me confirming the whether the same is worth thinking of.

Please do the same on an urgent basis.

Thanking you in anticipation,




Xprex Shipping Company Limited.

International House. Unit 5B Worthy Road.

Chittening Industrial Estate.

Avonmouth. Bristol.  UK.  BS11 0YB

Tel: Bristol UK  +44  (0) 704 579 2373

Fax: Bristol UK + 44  (0)117 676 4344


Sample Analysis

A seal on documents or emails does not convey legitimacy.  With the power of inexpensive computers and color printers, a 12 year child could make a very real looking fake seal these days.  Few western companies use seals, anyway.  Perhaps, they do in the Third World, but not in America (except for obscure court filings, and then it is just a formality). 

The biggest tip to a scam is advance pay. Why on earth would anyone or any company offer you 75% of your pay in advance

  • Would you do that?  No. 

  • Would I?  No. 

  • Would any company you know pay in advance of work?  No.

Despite this, you really haven't provided any meaningful information to determine whether it is a scam.  The name and address of the company could be real. For example , how about I sign this email:

George Bush
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Phone Numbers
Comments:   202-456-1111
Switchboard: 202-456-1414
FAX:             202-456-2461

Comments:      202-456-6213
Visitors Office: 202-456-2121



Every but of that is real and true. But that doesn't mean that I'm George Bush, now, does it?

If you can forward the email or other correspondence that you received, we can probably quickly point out signs that it is a scam.


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